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So here's some rules: No magic, this is set in the real world, but there's a giant flying animal that breathes fire. Its body radiates a large amount of heat (like being in a steam room if you're next to it), and its scales are metallic. It's about 100 feet in length, and eats about 20 cattle every month.

Its blood is highly heat-resistant when it reacts to open air. It can fly about as fast as a commercial airliner, but it rarely moves from its home (deep in a mountain, let's say the Rockies) unless you really provoke it.

Its scales are tough and nearly impervious to small arms, but they can be knocked off and its hide is very soft. It's a reptile, so it needs heat to stay active. And finally, its fire breath relies on a chemical that it spits like a snake.

So it's the time of Westward Expansion in the 1880s, and a bunch of cowboys and settlers have accidentally discovered the dragon (worst case scenario: They've angered it). How do they kill it with what they had at the time?

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    $\begingroup$ Well ... Wild Amos Malone used a Sharp's with a special cartridge filled with peyote, mushroom extracts, and other hallucinogenic drugs to chase away a chinese dragon. He didn't kill it, but he shore made it wish it had never come to America! $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy May 27 '17 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ It's a reptile, so it needs heat to stay active, but it rarely moves from its home, Cave of the Crystals. "The cave is extremely hot, with air temperatures reaching up to 58 °C (136 °F) with 90 to 99 percent humidity. The cave is relatively unexplored due to these factors. Without proper protection, people can only endure approximately ten minutes of exposure at a time." $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 27 '17 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ Just curious, if it radiates heat s.t. being next to it is like being in a steam room, why does it need heat to stay active? Is all that heat residual heat from wherever its lair is? $\endgroup$ – The Walrus469 May 27 '17 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy did you get that from Alan Dean Foster? I thought I was the only person who read that book $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI May 28 '17 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, I know what heat is :P I asked because OP specified that it is "a reptile, so it needs heat to stay active." By this I presume they mean that their dragons are ectotherms, which have generally low metabolic rates. However, such a dragon would more likely be a gigantotherm, taking advantage of its volume-to-surface-area ratio to achieve more or less homeostasis. So my question was not "why is the dragon hot?", but rather "why is the dragon so hot but still dependent on outside heat sources?" $\endgroup$ – The Walrus469 May 28 '17 at 11:45

10 Answers 10

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I submit that the cowboys could adapt the method of the Practical Princess: dummy dress full of gunpowder. Or dummy cow. In the 1880s they had dynamite handy too which would probably take less space than a keg of black powder.

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Illustrations were posted on https://bookillustrations.quora.com/Friso-Henstras-Illustrations-for-The-Practical-Princess I am sad the type came thru so small but I am philosophically opposed to cropping these images.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Solely for the drawings of the guys running away from the dragon $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling May 27 '17 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Jaws, anybody? $\endgroup$ – tonysdg May 27 '17 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ You can quote the text next to each image to make it a captioned book. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 May 28 '17 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ Story inspired by a myth about Cracow (Poland) where shoemaker sewn a keg of powder into a sheep hide. The dragon didn't exploded but needed to drank all the water in Vistula thus making his intestines explode. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY May 29 '17 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, the dummy would smell like gunpowder rather than food. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Aug 19 '17 at 14:10
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The beast probably swoops down, clutches a cow and rises back in the air to feed somewhere quiet. The hunting range of the dragon is likely to be largish.

You could set up a network of spotters charged with locating the dragon and predicting where it will feed.

The whole area should be freed from large cattle except a few bait ones, grazing in range of a camouflaged observer tasked with igniting a fuse. Then, those cows are equipped with a dynamite vest.

Otherwise, same setup, but with camouflaged Gatling guns or cannons.

There are some substances that might react at above 80 degrees Celsius and be used to permanently equip cattle with exploding vests, but I'm not sure how they'd behave over a long period. Dynamite itself would "sweat" and become unstable.

If the dragon's sight is not too good (a winged predator's probably is very good), fake cows could be disseminated in the countryside and used to bait traps, which would be safer and much less expensive that manning the whole hunting territory with camouflaged Gatling wagons or dynamite-laden cattle. The dragon is likely to need a sizable runway to achieve liftoff, so disrupting the attack run and making it crash in the ground could be enough to immobilize it for long enough to bring guns to the place. Having a wooden cow shoot harpoons or giant bear-traps could do the trick.

There is another alternative which might hurt people's sensibilities.

Assuming the body temperature of the beast is that much higher, it could also be possible to implant cows with a device that I read was used by some Arctic tribes to kill large predators (wolves and bears). A thin, flexible, sharpened sliver of bone (but for us, pointy spring steel with razor borders will do) is compressed inside a ball small enough that it will be likely swallowed whole, made of something that will melt at the target's body temperature but is hard enough at ambient temperature. The original device, called tukmikigiak or possibly mikigiak 1, used lard (ambient temperature being below freezing); we could perhaps use some tar concoction. Once the dragon has swallowed one (or more) devices, the steel blade will uncoil in its stomach or intestine and kill it.

A more humane way, and simpler at that, would be to use smaller balls filled with poison. Assuming we do have a poison that will kill a dragon.


(1) I was led to believe that this device is Sami in origin, but I've discovered that the word used seems to belong to the Inuttitut people.

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    $\begingroup$ Option #2, +1. It will either die or learn to avoid anything that smells like it belongs to a human. Although the later wouldn't end in "slaying the dragon", if allowed to breed, it could solve the problem forevermore assuming dragons pass their knowledge on to their young. $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 27 '17 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't find anything at all regarding tukmikigiak, is the spelling correct? $\endgroup$ – Cristol.GdM May 29 '17 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmmm. This is suspicious - I just found mikigiak, with the meaning of animal trap, in a inuttut dictionary (where tuk exists but seems to be a suffix, not a prefix). But I'm absolutely certain I found the other word in a book dealing with sami, which (as far as I know) speak a completely different language. I may have been too trusting in the book author's research. Editing answer; thanks. $\endgroup$ – LSerni May 29 '17 at 5:08
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Maybe there's another problem that the cowboys and settlers would have to face in this situation: the native people they're displacing.

Poisoning the dragon might not work anymore when the native people figured that having a B-17 Flying Fortress on their side would be an incredible repellent against Andrew Jackson's "fuck the natives" agenda.

They might have caught on to the idea and started farming cheap, accessible meat to feed the thing, and then train it to sic the human settlers themselves and burn their crops.

The natives can then back the beast up with human firepower, and protect it against machine gun traps and sabotage anything else the settlers decide to shove down its throat.

Also, what if the natives made armor out of the scales of dead dragons? If they can make scales out of the dead dragons then the settlers not only have to deal with a huge dragon, but also a bunch of mini-dragons "breathing" arrows, or worse, gunfire.

I'm also wondering, is the meat edible? How large is its population? Would there be more dragons than one?

The only way to deal with this is either a) the dragon cannot be tamed and therefore the natives cannot use the beast to further their agenda or b) use another dragon, or c) shoot its eyes.

Obviously having the eyes be a weak spot can make this strategy pretty weak. The natives likely won't have armor that could protect the dragon from small arms or rifle fire for very long without obstructing its vision.

Dragonscale armor would also be a huge commodity that could be more profitable than raising cattle. If the dragon sheds its skin once in a while, then the settlers (or even better, the natives that gotten displaced by them) could make some extra money off an expanded fur trade business.

So my answer is:

  1. Don't piss off the dragon.
  2. If the dragon pisses you off, remember that you can probably get 1000 cattle's worth of cash from its scales.
  3. If the dragon sheds, then there's a source of money that settlers and natives can use to establish cities and businesses.
  4. If someone else uses dragons, try using one of them yourself. This is the art of war after all.
  5. If you absolutely have to kill a dragon, aim for the eyes.
  6. If an untamed dragon is the problem, line a bait cow with poison to kill it. It's likely that machine gun encampments would be sabotaged considering this story's context.
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Could a cannon work? Not something that a group of settlers would always have (and not something a reader would expect) but there was always an army outpost nearby.

If not find where it sleeps and stab it through the eyes or collapse the entrance of the dragon's lair to trap it.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for somebody finally mentioning cannons. Chain shot would tear up the wings, grounding it. Solid shot should do significant damage if you can get a hit. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 28 '17 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ OP said that it fles as fast as commercial airliner. That's about 900 km/h. You need WWII flak cannons to hit such a thing. Why? Because WWII flaks were accurate, had high RoF and most importantly had both mechanical computers/aiming assists to lead fast moving planes AND had highly traversable mounts. Yeah, I think OP went overboard by order of magnitude with speed, but that's what he wrote. $\endgroup$ – M i ech May 28 '17 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ M i ech 2, they could wait until it lands or is approaching them in a straight line. $\endgroup$ – PStag May 28 '17 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ "not something that a group of settlers would have" You'd be surprised. Settlers headed for already partially settled areas tended not to bring heavy weapons, but anybody headed to an entirely new area would be likely to bring or build one if they could afford it. I don't know about the 1880s, but the 1790s expansions have several mentions of settlements building or buying cannon for defence, and the 1840s have a few. Probably less in the 1880s since repeating smallarms were becoming more common and are more efficient, but it wouldn't be an impossible thing. $\endgroup$ – Perkins May 28 '17 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ A privately-owned cannon would be uncommon but not unheard-of. There's one that keeps popping up in my local newspaper's "On This Day" section, with dates ranging from the late 1800s to the early 1920s. $\endgroup$ – Mark May 29 '17 at 5:48
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Cowboys and settlers could slay a it using the same method that peasants and townfolk have applied throughout actual history — trick it using a decoy animal hide filled with something poisonous.

Doesn't sound plausible? But it's worked several times throughout real-world history, so it's hard to argue with. For example:

The dragon of Brno was defeated by a traveling butcher who filled a sheep-hide with lime. The dragon gulped it down, and the lime boiled inside its belly until it burst. (Although, it must be said, not burst so badly that the townsfolk were prevented from taking and preserving the creature to hang in the town hall, where it still hangs to this day.)

The Wawel dragon, which lived under the hill on which the castle in Krakow is built, was killed in a similar way, although this time with the sheepskin was filled with sulphur and mustard seeds.

In some versions of both of these stories, it's not the caustic agent itself, but that the toxic meal caused a horrible belly-ache, causing the dragon to drink so much river water that it exploded.

And these are just two tales from cities I've happened to visit. I don't know for sure about the Krakow one, but the preserved corpse is right there in Brno, so it must be true, right?

brno dragon; public domain image

Your dragon seems like it might be a little bigger, and I don't see any evidence that these real-world dragons actually could fly, but I think the same general bait-and-poison approach is likely to work. You might want to try arsenic or something rather than mustard seed, though.

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Don't make it angry

Give its a supply of cows. Cattle Drives were a ready supply of cattle and common in that time frame. Feed it and leave it in peace.

Entombit it

Locate the underground lair entrance, pack with dynamite and seal it inside.

Bait Cow

Entice it with a cow covered in poison, dynamite strapped to it with a long fuse and/or nitroglycerin trigger.

Engage directly

If you have to fight get every abled body person a repeating rifle and hope for the best. Increase odds of success by using a Punt Gun or two or three.

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    $\begingroup$ Go get a Gatling gun and come back. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 28 '17 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Joshua Good idea, but they may be a little harder to get a hold of than a punt gun. $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling May 28 '17 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ They were more common in the wild west than punt guns due to lack of punts. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 28 '17 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Joshua If that's the case, is there a resource you can point me towards so I may edit my answer? Gatling guns may be more common, but I would have expect them to mostly owned by the military and harder for cowboys and settlers to get a hold of. $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling May 28 '17 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeKissling The various models of Gatling gun were produced in respectable numbers and were available to private buyers. The only issue was they'd cost between $500-$1000 at a time when a dollar a day was a pretty good wage. $\endgroup$ – Perkins May 29 '17 at 17:44
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Nets or hooks, They don't need to be strong enough to capture just strong enough to change its trajectory in flight. All they need to do is wait for it to dive then snag it and make it hit the ground, its own speed and mass will tear it into chunky salsa.

Dynamite or gunpowder, alternatively they can just dynamite its cave and crush it or explode it. Both were common in the west for mining. If they don't want to get that close they can shell it from a distance for the same effect. Artillery were common enough thanks to the war.

Punt guns Aka "I need to kill an entire flock of ducks with one shot" They were quite common at the time. tear its wings to shreds and let gravity do the rest.

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Its hide is very soft.

That's the biggest deal right here. Just take the Hercules vs Hydra approach from the Disney movie. Send someone inside his stomach, killing him from within.

Take something sharp and damage his organs. Inner bleedings will do the rest, even if it may take a few hours... or days... or weeks... (dunno, it's your dragon, you decide) But hey, he's pretty sure to die.

Edit:

Another approach: What about his eyes? With his size his eyes would most likely be a good target and possibly a huge weakpoint. It's up to you wether 1880s revolver can pierce it or not, but if they'd do, the dragon is doomed to die, as he's not used to be blind, thus unable to find/hunt enough food.

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    $\begingroup$ You would need to be sure that the someone is swallowed whole, does not expire due to the heat inside the body, and has enough oxygen (we're in 1880 after all. No Scuba gear). Also, probably the dragon's gastric juices are all kinds of nasty. $\endgroup$ – LSerni May 27 '17 at 21:07
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Hit it with a literal freight train - even though these were slow back then, there is still tremendous momentum involved, especially if you load the train heavily and let it go downhill (on engine power and momentum together). Now finding a way that gets the dragon in the freight trains way is another problem...

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What came to the stop of my head is a team of cowboys set up an ambush. One guy on the town's fastest steed gets the dragon's attention and the dragon flies above, giving chase. The other team of gunslingers hide ahead with their biggest rifles and shotguns to all take shots at the dragon's soft gut as he get near. "It might not kill him right away, but ain't no thing on Earth gonna take all these holes and just get up and go home."

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